A year in lockdown – foster carer shares her story as Hertfordshire County Council appeals for more foster carers
Foster carers come from a variety of backgrounds and have different life experiences, skills and qualities
A foster carer has shared her experience of welcoming foster children into her home during lockdown, as Hertfordshire County Council calls for more foster carers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for all parents but especially for new foster carers who have welcomed children into their homes during a time of great upheaval, social restrictions and future uncertainty.
While in normal circumstances, foster parents would have welcomed their foster children with outdoor trips, activities and socialising, the lockdown has meant much more time spent at home.
One foster carer, Sarah Smith, began the fostering application process just before the pandemic began last year and against the odds, has fulfilled her long-held dream to become a foster carer.
Sarah, who is also a childminder, had to overcome the hurdles of remote learning, meetings and visits to prepare to become a foster carer, but all her hard work paid off in September when she welcomed her first foster child, four-year-old *Matthew.
For Sarah, the pandemic gave her the chance to bond with Matthew and come up with imaginative ways to entertain him during the many hours they spent together at home. But the journey hasn’t been without its challenges.
Since lockdown, Hertfordshire County Council has seen an extra 50 children in care. There are currently 1,000 children in care and Hertfordshire County Council needs to recruit 60 foster carers annually to provide homes for the children.
Jenny Coles, Hertfordshire County Council’s Director of Children’s Services said: “Our foster carers are all ordinary people, but they do an extraordinary thing.
"I’d like to say a big thank you to our foster carers for everything they’re doing for their foster children in these challenging times.
“Now more than ever, we need people to adopt or foster a child. The coronavirus pandemic may have changed life as we know it for the time being, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for foster carers.”
Sarah has shared her experience of becoming a new foster carer during lockdown.
The 37-year-old is lucky in that she lives in idyllic surroundings – her family’s farm on the outskirts of Stevenage, with plenty of space to play, all within close proximity of her parents and sister, who has two young children of her own.
Commenting on achieving her life goal, despite the pandemic, Sarah said: “I’ve always wanted to foster ever since I was little - my sister says she can remember when I was about eight years of age and we both had our dolls. She would say, “this is my baby,” and I would say, “this is my foster baby”.
“My grandad on my dad’s side of the family was in foster care, and then on my mum’s side, her mum and dad fostered, so that may have had an influence.
“The cases were higher, the schools were off, and Matthew attended a nursery, so I made the decision, along with the social workers, to keep him with me fully until the lockdown restrictions eased and I think that helped him a lot.
“Keeping him away from school wasn’t a choice I took lightly, it was about making him feel secure, building up his self-esteem and making sure he wasn’t affected by all these changes.
“When he first came to me, he was only stringing three words together and now he is writing his name, knows all the alphabet and is starting to read. Now, everyone mostly understands what he is saying as his speech has massively improved.
“I’ve had loads of issues to work through with Matthew, he couldn’t regulate his emotions, so I had massive tantrums. It helped having reward charts in place which helped him understand the boundaries. He loves Mr Bean, so he’ll have a picture of Mr Bean on there! Or he loves Postman Pat or Spiderman – he always gets to choose.
“If anyone is struggling during fostering, I’d suggest that they go back to using a simple reward chart, because there is always going to be something the child will want, for example an extra story at bedtime which Matthew loves.
"You can’t change everything all at once – don’t go into it with high expectations and think you’re going to be able to unpick everything straight away, it’s a gradual process.
Recalling a pivotal moment when all the hard work and challenges of the past year were rewarded, Sarah said: “I remember during the last lockdown, Matthew running to me and literally just jumping into my arms and hugging me and I thought “this is what you read about when you learn about fostering”.
"I didn’t think it would be a reality, but it actually was, it really made me well up, I realised he had made that attachment I’d always dreamt about.”
*Name changed to protect identity.